Picewell Forbes has some explaining to do
We in The Bahamas are fortunate to live in a democracy where freedom of the press is a time-honoured tradition that is as zealously protected as are freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Responsible news organizations make every effort to not abuse that freedom by adhering to a strict code of ethics that includes a commitment to not publish or broadcast false and malicious information.
Consequently, all good journalists and even some of the bad ones who make an effort to perform their jobs responsibly know that they should thoroughly check and recheck information they receive to verify whether it is factual before including it in their stories or reports.
If the information is determined to be credible and the source requests anonymity, news organizations generally comply and steadfastly refuse to reveal the identity of the source, even if requested to do so by a court of law. Indeed, some journalists have been known to go to prison for refusing to reveal who provided them with certain information.
A case in point is an incident that took place several years ago involving current West End and Bimini Member of Parliament Obie Wilchcombe, before he was elected to the House of Assembly. A broadcast journalist by profession, Wilchcombe defied a court order to reveal who provided him with information on a prison suicide that he revealed on his radio show on MORE 94. He was subsequently jailed for several days for contempt of court, but he stuck to his guns and never revealed his source.
Picewell Forbes, Member of Parliament for South Andros, may find himself in a similar position as Wilchcombe was in when he appears before Senior Justice Anita Allen this Thursday to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court for his announcement on national radio and television that former Senator Pleasant Bridgewater had been acquitted of attempted extortion charges, although the jury was still deliberating the matter.
That announcement by Forbes, made last Wednesday night prior to his address at the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) national convention, resulted in Justice Allen quite rightly discharging the jury and ordering that Bridgewater and her co-accused Tarino Lightbourne be retried.
Senior Justice Allen is to be commended for exemplifying judicial excellence in quickly reaching the decision that she did. Make no mistake about it, had she done otherwise and allowed the likelihood that the jury's deliberations had been leaked to someone to become fodder for stories in the international media, the entire judicial system of The Bahamas would have been ridiculed around the world.
Because Bridgewater and Lightbourne are on trial for allegedly attempting to extort $25 million from John Travolta, who is one of the world's most famous actors, the case was being followed closely by newspapers in every corner of the world. Indeed, Forbes' announcement instantly became international news, with some newsmakers referring to his gaffe as being made by a "Bahamian lawmaker." Technically, they were correct, given the fact that Forbes is a member of the House of Assembly, but some readers around the world may have interpreted that to mean The Bahamas' entire legal system is corrupt.
Their thinking in this regard most certainly may have been reinforced by the celebration that erupted in the convention hall when Forbes made the announcement. True, Bridgewater is a former PLP Member of the House and most recently a PLP senator, a position that she resigned when she was arrested, so it is understandable that members of the PLP were hoping that she was acquitted of the charges made against her. But the wild celebration that took place in the convention hall may have sent the wrong message to the outside world about our justice system, especially considering that the announcement turned out to be incorrect and implied that deliberations of the jury may have been compromised.
Unquestionably, Forbes has some explaining to do when he appears before Senior Justice Allen on Thursday, and the Bahamian people should insist that his explanation is a good one, for it is the taxpayers of this country who will have to foot the bill for a retrial, which could be in the millions of dollars. What's more, one senior journalist insists that Forbes cannot invoke the privilege of a journalist to not reveal the source of his information. According to this senior journalist, Forbes is not really a journalist, but rather could better described as a radio personality.
Be that as it may, some people are suggesting that if Forbes declines to state the source of his information, he should be required to pay the cost of the new trial; however, that is an impractical suggestion and one that cannot be enforced by law. Nonetheless, Senior Justice Allen should use every means available to her to find out why a trial she presided over for five weeks did not end in fair and just verdicts being reached.
© 2009 The Freeport News